Wednesday, 3 December 2008
It is both with pleasure and pain that I rise tonight to honour the service of Senator Chris Ellison. It is with great pleasure that I take this opportunity to pay tribute to his contribution to Australia, to the Senate and to the Liberal Party of Australia. But it is also with pain, because I am losing from this place a good friend, an ideological soul mate and an invaluable member of the coalition Senate team.
Chris and I have had parallel careers in this place. We came into the Senate together as members of the very distinguished class of 1993, including as it does Senator Chris Evans and Senator Judith Troeth. Indeed, of the nine senators who first took their places on 1 July 1993, we are the only four still here—soon, regrettably, to be three. Chris and I were both appointed parliamentary secretaries and then junior ministers in the first term of the Howard government. Indeed, given John Howard’s remarkable obsession with his ministerial code of conduct in our first term, a number of ministerial opportunities opened up, of which Chris and I were happy beneficiaries. That is probably the only reason we got there.
It could be true! Chris actually beat me into the ministry by some three months, which, of course, I think appropriately reflects his superior talents. I served as the first Special Minister of State in our government, and then Chris succeeded me in that role after the 1998 election. It is interesting that between Chris Ellison, Eric Abetz and me, we occupied what is known as the SMOS role collectively for just over eight years as successive special ministers of state. As Senator Faulkner would know, you discover quite a lot about your colleagues as the SMOS. So Chris, Eric and I have a very special bond born out of service in that particular role.
I was lucky enough to be elevated to cabinet at the end of 1998. It is with great regret that I note that Chris did not join me in the cabinet room until March of 2007. Chris had nearly 10½ years as a minister—a great record—but, very regrettably, only nine months in the actual cabinet. I have to say that, frankly, I could never understand why John Howard was disinclined to recognise Chris’s obvious credentials for cabinet despite my repeated advocacy of his merits. Of course, Chris’s ultimate elevation was somewhat bittersweet in that it came at the expense of our very good friend Ian Campbell. I never thought Ian should have been forced out of the cabinet, but it was a considerable consolation that John Howard accepted my advice to elevate Chris Ellison in Ian’s place. While Chris had a long and successful ministerial career, he has good reason to feel disappointed, I think, that he did not have the opportunity to serve for a much longer period in the cabinet. Indeed, I was, of course, one of the very few genuine federalists in the Howard cabinet and would have loved to have had Chris in there with me for more than the nine months that he was to help me to argue the federalist case with all of those centralists around the cabinet table.
Chris had six different ministries in his 10½ years, which is—I have not checked—probably a record for our government. Again, I think that reflects well on him and reflects both his flexibility and adaptability, which are very important political attributes. The majority of his frontbench service, as I think is well known, was as Minister for Justice and Customs, a position he held for some six years. I can certainly vouch for the affection and respect for Chris throughout the Australian Federal Police, whose minister he was for all of those six years. I certainly well remember representing Chris in the Solomon Islands and presenting awards to the Federal Police for their service in RAMSI. The very high regard in which Chris was held was very clear to me.
He also served as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate for nearly 2½ years, the latter half of which coincided with my leadership of the government in the Senate. No leader could have wished for a more capable and competent manager. I am extremely grateful to him for making my first year as Leader of the Government in the Senate less stressful than it might otherwise have been. Certainly Chris and I discovered that managing a one-seat government majority in the Senate is actually a hell of a lot harder than managing a minority. We had to make sure the numbers were there every time, which was not always easy.
Not only did Chris and I come in together and serve together in the ministry for a decade, we became very good friends. I think we instantly recognised our shared philosophical disposition. I must confess to having been a little wary of Chris in the early stages, given his then reputation as an acolyte of the infamous Noel Crichton-Browne, whose approach to politics I never found particularly endearing. But I soon discovered that Chris was very much his own man, one with a strong moral and ideological backbone and who was prepared to go to the barricades to defend his beliefs.
Chris’s maiden speech, which I just reread, is one of the most impressive I have heard in my 15½ years in this place. He clearly stated then his strong philosophical principles, and he has held true to them throughout his career. He has been a strong fighter for economic liberalism, for social conservatism, for the great virtues of our Australian Federation, for the advantages of our constitutional monarchy and for the primacy of marriage and family. He and I were in the trenches together in defending our Constitution against the ravages of the republicans during the 1999 referendum. We voted together consistently on the conservative side of all the major conscience issues that have come before this Senate in the time that we have been here together. In fact, I cannot think of a political issue on which we have differed.
He has been a powerful, passionate defender of the interests of the state he is so proud to represent, the state of Western Australia, and a great servant of the Western Australian Liberal Party. I must say that I have nothing but sympathy for those like Chris who represent Western Australia in Canberra. I acknowledge Senator Evans in that capacity. So while I am very disappointed, I am not at all surprised that, after 15½ years of flying backwards and forwards between Perth and Canberra, Chris has chosen now to share in his beautiful young children’s growth and play a greater part in their development. The hardest part of being a federal MP is without question the absences that we all experience from our own children. That is, of course, especially so for Western Australians. On this occasion, I do want to thank very sincerely Chris’s wife, Caroline, for sharing Chris with us and allowing him to so faithfully and diligently serve his country, his state and his party in this place. On that note, I wish Chris every success in his new life and congratulate him on a magnificent parliamentary career.
Before calling Senator Evans, I should have outlined at the start that informal arrangements are being made to allocate speaking times to individual senators. I know, with the concurrence of the Senate the clerks will be asked to set accordingly. There will be some people who will go a little bit under time, and there may be some people who go a little bit over time too, but we will be tolerant in these circumstances.
I join with Senator Minchin in offering my congratulations to Senator Ellison on his career and in wishing him the best for the future. I do not want this to sound like an obituary—I sometimes hate these things; they make you sound like you are dead—but I want to make some personal remarks about Chris on behalf of the government but more so on my own behalf. Chris, as Senator Minchin indicated, was in the same class as me—the class of 1993; a couple of migrants from Perth, out of the University of Western Australia—and, being called Chris Evans and Chris Ellison, we occasionally got mixed up. We were both very good looking young blokes at the time, too!
Honourable senators interjecting—
It was 15 years ago, right! Fifteen years in the Senate takes its toll! He survived better than I, although he is a bit grey. We have had the time in the parliament together and we served on the native title committee early in our careers. We worked quite closely together on those things. When he was Manager of Government Business in the Senate, I had a lot to do with him in various roles. It is worth noting, though, that, whilst Senator Minchin focused on perhaps a disappointment in his career, he should have tried it from this side for that long period before we won government. Chris is one of the few people who spent the vast majority of his time in government and the vast majority of his time in the ministry. While a lot of that is down to his own abilities, there is also in politics always a sense of luck. I think he was very lucky to have had that time. He has had a very distinguished career but has had the benefit of a career where timing has been good. No-one appreciates that more than those of us who did 12 years in opposition.
Chris has always been a very decent and professional bloke. He is very easy to deal with. Joe Ludwig and I, along with others who have worked with him across the chamber, have high regard for his decency and professionalism and also for being a person of his word and being very good to work with. I am very grateful for that and have enjoyed those interactions—even though they have been testy on occasions in the pursuit of different interests. I was a bit concerned by Senator Minchin’s descriptions of Chris as sharing his ideological positions—I know he is conservative, but he cannot be that bad, surely! Having said that, I embarrassed Senator Ellison once by saying that I voted for him in a student election at the University of Western Australia because he was the moderate face of the Liberal club on the campus. And he was regarded as being quite progressive at the time. I think it is fair to say he moved to a more conservative position over the years—obviously by associating with the wrong people, like Senator Minchin! Even then, Senator Ellison had a better reputation than most of the student politicians on campus, but that is probably not a big claim. He always looked to make a positive contribution.
I acknowledge his family, as Senator Minchin did. A lot of platitudes are often spoken on these occasions, sometimes about family, but having known his wife, Caroline, she certainly is the better half. You could not meet a more delightful person. Chris married a bit later in life than most of us, but he has been blessed with three great children, whom I have spent some time with on the planes on occasions. They are full of energy and full of life. They are lovely kids. One of the great things about Chris’s decision is that he will get to enjoy them more as they grow.
I have said this before, but I think one of the great things in politics is to go at a time of your own choosing. So few do it; so few do not end up bitter. Our last Prime Minister, Mr Howard, is a classic example. I do not mean this in a political way; we have had more than our fair share as well. Those that go of their own choosing seem to cope with post-politics life much better. Because they have made a decision, they go without regret and they go without bitterness, and I am sure Chris is in that place. I wish him well. I think he can learn a lesson from former senator Ian Campbell, whom I last saw driving around in a sports car in Subiaco, shouting out the window at me and enjoying life immensely. He is terrible to run into, because he is having such a great time. I think he is making a huge quid, having a great time and enjoying life. He is an advertisement for retiring while still young enough to enjoy it and making the decision to go yourself. He and Brenda are obviously enjoying life.
Chris, we do appreciate the contribution you have made. I think you have had a great career. To serve as a minister for that long is a rare experience. If you look back over the history of people who have served in this place, very few have served as a minister for that length of time. I know you have much to be proud of in the portfolios you have served in. I wish you all the best. I think you have made a very wise decision, and I am glad you came to it of your own choosing. You decided to go under your own steam. Senator Minchin and I probably have to examine our own performance, as we are still here and some might say we should have gone with you—
Yes. I always find, when you look behind, Senator Minchin, it is never that side that is your problem in politics. But I digress. To Chris Ellison: all the best, best wishes from the whole of the Labor government and senators, and we look forward to you enjoying your new life.
Today all of us wanted to speak on behalf of the National Party to wish Chris all the best but, because I was the father of the house, I won the privilege of being able to stand up here today as the representative of the National Party to join with Senator Evans and Senator Minchin in speaking about Chris.
You just have to look around and see how many people have turned out; we have Senator Evans and then on the conservative side we have just about a full complement here to wish you all the best, and that says something. And I see a couple more senators coming in now. We are here to wish you all the best and to stand here in solidarity with you.
Chris, you are one of the ball carriers in this place. You are, in the parlance of rugby, one of the people who could take the ball up to the opposition, and you are going to be very sadly missed. People say, ‘No-one is irreplaceable,’ and that is probably true. But there are some people who are hard to replace—a lot harder than others—and you are one of those. You will go away with all the best wishes from both sides of the parliament and from the crossbenches.
I know that with three children under nine it must be terribly hard to face that five-hour trip from Western Australia backwards and forwards every week. Their victory is our loss. Your family must always come first and we recognise that. I wish you great happiness and joy with all your children. I know that you will take them for walks on the beach around Claremont and you will probably go sailing and play football with them and do all the things that a nine-year-old would expect from their father. Children really need their father at this stage of their development—when they are in the 10-, 11- and 12-year age group. You will be there for them. How can we say that you did the wrong thing when you made that decision.
I would like to reflect on what you said in your maiden speech. In the last paragraph you said:
Honourable senators, our responsibility is great and our burden heavy but I ask everyone, whether Christian or not, to remember in our deliberations the prayer that we say each day; that is, that the Almighty may direct and prosper our work to the true welfare of the people of Australia.
That was the last sentence in your maiden speech. I repeat it today because it is just as true now as it was the day that you said it.
I sincerely wish you all the best. You are being a good father and you have been a good friend to everyone on this side of parliament. You are one of the great conservatives; we share such values as fighting for the constitutional monarchy, and we went shoulder to shoulder to shoulder with that. All the best, Chris, and all the best to your wife and children.
The Senate this evening farewells a senator, but not an ordinary senator; it farewells a very special senator—a senator who has made a sterling contribution to his country, to his state and to his party. It is a sterling contribution of which you, Chris, can be justifiably proud.
My association with you goes back, I think, some 30 years to the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation, and of course that is good and bad: good, because I can vouch for Senator Ellison, but also bad because I know as many bad things about Senator Ellison as he knows about me. He indicated that in this debate he would have the right of reply, so I should go easy. I remind him that I hope that I might have a few years of parliamentary privilege left in me, so go easy on the right of reply.
Senator Ellison came here about 18 months before I did and it seems to be my destiny to follow in his political footsteps. I followed him as the chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee. I then followed him as Special Minister of State and I then followed him as Manager of Government Business in the Senate. And just in case those opposite get a bit too excited, yes, one day I will follow his steps into retirement, but not quite yet.
When I did follow in Senator Ellison’s footsteps in those various roles, I always found that I had very, very big shoes to fill. He had earned a reputation of being hard working, robust, thorough, clear thinking and honest. He was also, and, might I add, still remains, a man of clear values, which he holds dear. He is a conviction politician: someone who knows where he stands and also knows why he stands where he does. In short, if you knew where Senator Ellison stood on an issue, I think you could bet London to a brick you could predict where Senator Abetz stood on that same issue. His values and belief system make us philosophical and political soul mates.
We worked closely together on a number of issues in our ministerial careers. I remember our joint submission to cabinet in relation to illegal fishing. We agreed on our tactics and walked out of cabinet ashen faced and shaking our heads in disgust. As soon as we were out of the cabinet room we did cartwheels back to our offices, not believing our luck in getting the amount of money that we did. Then, in relation to the value type issues, there were matters such as euthanasia, where I took over the chairing of the euthanasia inquiry.
And of course, very importantly, there are the social aspects. I think I can reveal this evening the real reason for Senator Ellison’s retirement: that was when some of us lost the battle for Lee’s! When the leader ratted on us, Chris, and changed sides on that very important social justice issue of where we ought to have dinner on a Wednesday evening, I saw that it was a bit tough to bear. I can understand why you are leaving us, but we are all looking forward to another great night at Lee’s tonight.
Can I observe, Mr President, that I have never seen the gallery look so beautiful as it does this evening, with both Caroline Ellison and my wife. They say that behind every great man there is a surprised mother-in-law. Can I also say that anybody who is able to make a substantial contribution in this calling of being a parliamentarian, and who has a family, also has an imperative that he or she has a very supportive spouse. There is no doubt, Chris, that you enjoyed a very supportive spouse. Michelle and I enjoy Caroline’s company. We enjoyed her support of us, before you had children, looking after our children.
May I briefly recount a story where Caroline Ellison broke the heart of our son John. Caroline used to look after John very well, taking him shopping around Canberra. As one does in the car from time to time, we had a family discussion, and the topic turned to marriage. John was absolutely definite: he was going to marry Caroline Ellison. Then when his older sister told him, ‘Don’t be so silly, she’s already married,’ he burst into tears. Later on the Ellisons were in Hobart at a hotel and my wife and John came to pay a visit to Caroline Ellison. It really hit home to my son John that Caroline Ellison was in fact married when Chris Ellison walked into the hotel room. He took one look at him and cried. He then knew that Caroline Ellison was not available for marriage. She is a great mother to their three children and a great support to Chris.
Can I say, Chris, you have impressed me always as a very well-rounded individual—very personable, intelligent, with a great sense of humour and a great turn of phrase, and sincere, with a solid set of values. I hope that you will be able to put all those traits and qualities to good use in your retirement. I wish you, Caroline, Siena, Nicholas and Sebastian all the best for the future. And God bless.
Can I add my words to the farewell this evening. Many of us in this place get to know those on the other side through committees—through a range of committee work and interactions, attending committee hearings, writing reports and arguing each other’s respective cases. I can say that none of that took place with respect to myself and Senator Ellison. By the time I happened to join the Senate, Senator Ellison had already moved onto the front bench and took on a range of portfolios that I think have been highlighted this evening. That generally means that you do not get to know someone as well as you might otherwise have liked to. Particularly given the fine words that have been provided tonight, not only would I say I agree with them all; I can add to them as well, as I will shortly.
Entering parliament in 1999 I did find that, having joined the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, there was one joy, in that I could then spend a significant amount of time questioning Senator Ellison during estimates over many years—which unfortunately went on for more years than I would have actually liked! Nonetheless, I can say that during that experience I did get to know the minister through many late nights, sitting until 11 o’clock at night, questioning in a way not only the senator himself but the departments he represented, including in the Justice and Customs portfolio. I came to know him after spending a significant amount of time with him during those years—I think something in the order of seven years. His was a frontbench role spanning something like 10 years.
Of that experience I can say there were high points and low points. I am sure that Senator Ellison is pleased that I am not going to go to any of those tonight! What I can say is that you served in various capacities during that period from 1997 to your last ministry in 2007. A career on the front bench, as I said, spanning something in the order of 10 years is a significant achievement, as Senator Evans mentioned. I think it is probably one of those examples that stands for all of us to admire and look at and say that your achievements during that period were significant. If we look at Justice and Customs as but one area, you oversaw the professionalisation of Customs from a customs organisation to one with a much bigger role, right through to the oversighting of the Australian Federal Police, where you oversaw the doubling of capacity and the enlargement of the Australian Federal Police into a very professional outfit. All of that time was under your leadership and with your input. And Customs was not only a border protection agency; it also expanded into cargo facilitation, together with SmartGate and a range of other innovations that you developed and led.
I have also had a great opportunity to work with you in another capacity, as both the Manager of Opposition Business and the Manager of Government Business. Can I say for the benefit of those listening tonight: no, we never struck any deals in relation to legislation or how we were going to deal with the Senate and get through the legislative program. All those people who would say that we were obviously deep in agreement on certain issues and putting them forward, I can refute that entirely—and Senator Ellison, I am sure, would concur. He dealt with the opposition and the government in an even-handed and fair manner, and he continues to do that today.
Can I also say, more on a personal note, that you do get to know those on the opposite side only occasionally. But in this instance I can say that, having known Senator Ellison through this place, it would also be a privilege to know him in private life as well, because the way he has addressed the Senate and his work over that period has been exemplary, quite frankly. It is a contribution that many should admire, and many will continue to hold out as being one that is second to none in the time he has been here.
But can I also say—and, given the time that is available, I will condense it—that it has been a privilege to know you and I wish you well in your new career. I know you will take it in the professional way that you have addressed yourself in the Senate. And I know that your family will say ‘Hi’ to you again, because this place does make it difficult to continue to support your family in the way that you might want to. Our families do end up supporting us more and, quite frankly, for those benefits I am sure that you will find a career outside of the parliament, one that can also fit in a much greater role for your family as well. With those few words, I farewell you and thank you for your friendship over the period.
In many respects, these are such melancholy occasions where we reflect on the outstanding contributions of our colleagues and hear some very heartfelt and very sincere words from members of the opposition. I think it really talks very much to the collegiality of the Senate and the way in which we form very enduring friendships and associations in the time that we are in this place, particularly if it has been for a long period.
Tonight I want to pay tribute to a true gentleman of this chamber, Chris Ellison, who for 15½ years has very ably and graciously represented the people of the great state of Western Australia. They will miss his determined advocacy for them, as will all of us for all of the issues that he has pursued over the years. But with three children, sitting up there in the gallery, under the age of 10, and having been committed to being away from his home state and, more importantly, from his own home for most of the last 15 years, I think his decision is very understandable. We do wish him great joy and happiness in being able to spend time with Caroline and the children.
I can remember when the twins were born and later, when sitting up in the President’s gallery, you could barely see their heads over the top of the seats, which suggests that Chris has probably been here far too long, because now they are almost grown up. When we see them looking down at us now we can see them so clearly.
When I first started in the Senate I sat beside Chris in question time. He instructed me in the dark arts of question time and other political endeavours, so I have a great affection for Chris. He has always been a great teacher, friend and mentor to me. But I do think, looking back on those early days, that he had to very quickly house-train a new pup and he did that very well. I do not know whether he had a particular role to do that, but he certainly did it very well with me.
He has given, as others have said, much service to this chamber and, as he said as a new senator in his first speech, on 1 September 1993, he followed in some great Western Australian senatorial footsteps in the shape of, for one, the late Senator Peter Durack QC. If the new Senator Ellison was at all concerned, following in those august footsteps, with his list of service to his state, to his party and to our chamber and its various committees and his ministerial roles that he has always carried out with such distinction, he need not have been.
Senator Ellison has variously served on the Privileges Committee and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. I keep following him, too, together with Senator Abetz—we all follow Senator Ellison—so I have now, once again, assumed chairmanship of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, of which he was chair. He has been on the Procedures Committee, as well as on many Senate select committees and their inquiries. In addition, he sat on various joint statutory committees and contributed significantly, as other speakers have said, to all their deliberations. I will not go into all of them.
As a senator for Western Australia he travelled widely. He made many official visits to countries as diverse as France, East Timor, Korea, Nauru, Indonesia, Cyprus, Austria, the United States, as well as many visits to South-East Asia and Pacific island nations, but he could never rival ‘Marco Polo’—Senator Alston.
Many senators will recall Senator Ellison as both diligent and committed as the Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs, back in 1997; as Special Minister of State and as Minister for Justice and Customs for nearly seven years, amongst his other portfolios, before being promoted to cabinet as Minister for Human Services in March 2007. I certainly remember him in cabinet. I agree with Senator Minchin that his abilities meant that he was qualified to be in cabinet far earlier than he was actually elevated to cabinet. He discharged that role with great distinction. He managed the difficulties or opportunities those various portfolios offered always with grace, determination, great humour, intelligence and perseverance.
More recently, Senator Ellison, as Senator Ludwig has mentioned, was the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate and, if I marvelled at his stamina before assuming Senator Ellison’s previous role in managing the opposition’s business in the Senate, I doubly marvel at his stamina since taking over this role. It requires enormous energy, discipline, quick thinking, firmness and diplomacy, which he has in spades, to get through a quarter of a day, let alone a whole one, as I have been discovering over these last few months. And were it not for the good humour of Joe Ludwig I think it would be much more difficult.
Chris has certainly set, I think, a very high bar for us all to get over in seeking to match his performance. I should just add one thing. He also has an iron stomach, because there is never enough time to eat, or eat properly, and that is no doubt why Chris has been a stalwart of Lee’s restaurant, that bastion establishment for Liberal senators going back before time—the memory of man runneth not—with the internal fortitude to meet over a meal and enjoy our friendship on Wednesday evenings when the Senate was sitting.
Finally, I salute Senator Ellison for the virtues that make him such a universally popular and much-loved member of this chamber. I commend him on his integrity, honesty, compassion and unfailing courtesy. Those characteristics of Chris Ellison the man and our friend will be sorely missed by us all. I wish him and his family every success for a prosperous and happy future, and don’t be a stranger to us in the future.
I well remember, in early 1993, when I felt very mature having been in this place for nearly 12 months, talking to my good friend Ian Campbell and to former Senator Noel Crichton-Browne and saying, ‘Who’s this bloke that’s going to replace Peter Durack?’ I still remember Ian saying to me, ‘Choofer Ellison’s a good bloke.’ From the day that Chris came into this chamber, I do not think there has been anybody here who would not have agreed that ‘Choofer’ Ellison is a good bloke.
I had the good fortune to be in this place at that time, when Chris and I were both a lot younger. We were in opposition. We had a bit of time to spare. People have talked about nights at Lee’s. I remember the nights at Lee’s, but I remember even more the nights at Le Grange, which is a place that is not known to any of the newer people in the Senate. Chris and I and a few others used to occasionally venture to that establishment, which you notice is now closed. I would not want to shock Caroline or the family by detailing the exploits of those times. But can I say that with Chris Ellison we always had a good friend and a good mate.
Chris came into this place with a number of other senators, such as Senator Minchin and Senator Ian Campbell. Who will forget those early days, with the Mabo legislation? I notice Senator Troeth nodding. We sat in this place for hours and hours and hours debating the Mabo legislation. All of you guys who were involved in the legal field were performing a bit of a tag team, trying to make sure that the legislation was well documented and well questioned.
The thing that I remember about Chris the most is his very strong beliefs. Chris came into this place with principles and he never varied from them. His principles always came first. To the newer senators in this place, my only advice is that if you stick to your principles people will always respect you, regardless of what those principles are. Chris, you are to be remembered for that. You made an enormous contribution to government. One of the difficulties about being in government is that you do not get as much time to spend with your mates. If you are a minister or you have a responsible role, it takes up so much of your time that you do not have time for the relaxation periods that, it is true to say, you get more of in opposition.
I remember that when Chris came into this place he was a bachelor. Caroline, you were the best thing that ever happened to Chris. He knows that and we know that. You have no idea how Chris became the ultimate family man, and it was all due to your influence. Can I say that, on behalf of the spouses of all of us who have been in this place for a long time, there is not one who did not love Caroline and the contribution that she made here. Although your time was curtailed once the children started growing up, Caroline, we remember you. We will always remember you for the support you gave Chris and for the friendship you gave to the other spouses in this place.
Chris, you were a fantastic Manager of Government Business. It is one of the hardest jobs in this place. As Manager of Government Business you never upset your colleagues. There are ways of handling your colleagues. You have to go and say, ‘I’m sorry, guys, you can’t speak on this bill because we’ve got to get this legislation through,’ and although people might think that they should speak on it, they cannot because business has to be done. I think that is something that needs to be remembered today. Not everybody in this place can expect to speak on every bill. You were a magnificent Manager of Government Business.
I have had the privilege to serve in this Senate over the past 16½ years with 175 senators. A hundred and seventy-five people have come and gone in this place since I came here in May 1992. Chris Back, who is up in the gallery tonight, will be the 176th. I am sure that we will welcome him with open arms in the same way that we welcomed Chris Ellison. But of those 175 senators, there are none that I respect more than Chris Ellison. To you and your family, Chris, we wish you all the best in the future. I have had the good fortune to call in on Ian Campbell a couple of times in Perth since he retired. Unfortunately, I am a bit old to start another career. You are not, Chris. You are going to have a wonderful time spending the years with Caroline and your family. We wish you well in the future.
I first met Senator Chris Ellison at the famous Lee’s, before I became a senator. I was a candidate and he was the newly appointed Minister for Justice and Customs. That was the commencement of a great relationship, because I could hear his handcuffs rattling. He had a passion for that particular role. As I am an ex-police officer, we developed a relationship through the justice process. We were both involved in the establishment of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which was Chris’s baby. Chris involved me in that from the very embryonic stages. I appreciated and enjoyed that. Chris, Senator Ferguson indicated that you are looking for a career outside politics. Policing would suit you. You would make a great police officer, a great detective. I think you would be very good there. I am sure there are a few police commissioner vacancies going around the country.
The other aspect about Chris that I really appreciated was getting to know him when he was Manager of Government Business and Manager of Opposition Business. As most people here will know, whips and managers need to relate to each other on a very close and personal basis. Chris and I developed a great relationship through those two roles. We have been able to quickly bounce ideas off each other. When Chris was a minister he used my office as his home base closer to the chamber rather than do the walk from the ministerial wing back here. When he became Manager of Opposition Business, Chris and I were in each other’s offices on a constant basis, as you need to be. Our staff interacted as well with each other as we did in the running of the Senate. I particularly appreciated the wisdom I gained from Chris during that time. Everyone needs a good mentor. I have been fortunate to have a few here, and Chris has been one of them. Chris has really steered me in the right direction in relation to the management of the Senate. I will never forget that, Chris, and I am indebted to you for your perseverance and your guidance.
Finally, I think it is important to acknowledge Chris’s passion. In the last few weeks, as most would know, Chris has been in a position where he has known he will not be returning to us, but he has approached his tasks and his duties with more enthusiasm than senators who have just started. I would have thought he was a new senator rather than a senator exiting. Chris has set a great example. What epitomised that, Chris, was your party room performance this Tuesday. I am not going to breach party room confidentiality and indicate what was said, but, when Chris got up, the entire party room was listening. Chris left his mark on the party room that day. There was no doubt about what his views were, and the resounding chorus after he sat down was, ‘Don’t go; don’t go!’
Chris, it is a shame you are going. I completely understand your reasons. Family is far more important than the family you have here, and I know Caroline and your family will enjoy having you back home. Tasmanians and Western Australians—and probably Senator Macdonald, being from Far North Queensland—have that sympathy for each other in having a long distance to travel to get home. Whilst we experience the same time difference, sometimes longer, in travelling home, you have a time change, Chris, which we do not have to endure. That must be unbearable. I do not know how your body handles that on a constant basis. You have always had our sympathy for that reason. As Tasmanians and Western Australians we are also in isolated states, so we tend to stick up for each other more and unite against some of these mainland states. Chris, I look forward to seeing you on a social occasion again. Take care in your retirement; I am sure that you will be prosperous and your family will enjoy it.
Chris Ellison is able, committed, articulate, competent and, above all, a thoroughly decent person. Chris has had a stellar career since joining the Senate in July 1993, with roles as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services and to the Attorney-General; Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs; Minister Assisting the Attorney-General; Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training; Special Minister of State; Minister for Justice and Customs; Minister for Human Services; and, as has been mentioned, an unbelievable Manager of Government Business.
I can remember saying on several occasions to the leader, ‘Is this guy for real?’ I could not quite comprehend how someone could be under such pressure, being approached from all angles about different things in a crisis, and just get through it all with equanimity, good humour, success and ability. It always amazed me. He has always acted in the best interests of Australia while at the same time remaining a very dedicated and vociferous advocate for his beloved home state of Western Australia. Chris is a very deep thinker, with committed views on many issues that reflect his upbringing and his beliefs. The Mabo warnings given in his maiden speech were prescient but, regrettably, went unheeded at the time.
Chris should be acknowledged for the real impact he has had on the fortunes of the Liberal Party in Western Australia, which has seen magnificent results federally right the way through his career but particularly in the last two federal elections, making gains in the election before last and winning a seat in the last election for the House of Representatives in Western Australia when everywhere else Liberal seats were falling to Labor. His influence has been instrumental in the quite remarkable victory of the Liberal Party at the last state election, earlier this year, when the party won nine electorates in the Western Australian parliament to become the government of that state.
I have worked very closely with Chris, particularly between the years 2001 and 2006, when I as fisheries minister and he as customs minister dealt with the problem of illegal fishing in Australian waters. That culminated in the acquisition of the armed, ice-strengthened vessel the Oceanic Viking, followed by the cessation of illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean and a substantial win in the battle against foreign incursions in the north.
Closer work with Chris, however, has occurred not in parliament or in ministerial offices but in the salubrious surroundings of Lee’s Inn Chinese restaurant at Manuka. Even before Chris was sworn in as a senator, he had joined a select group of people at this high-class restaurant working through such weighty matters as which delegates should be elected to the West Australian division of the Liberal Party, which person should be put in charge as branch development secretary in some branch in a small locality up in the far north of Western Australia, which proxies could be obtained from ‘reliable’ people, which of our colleagues should be favoured for this position or that trip and which leader should receive our support.
Of course, all of this was intertwined with conversations by undoubted culinary connoisseurs of the delights of genuine downtown Manuka Chinese cuisine. I suspect that this group, of which I was an original member and Chris was a very early member, were never quite as successful and influential as we thought we might have been. Nevertheless, our meetings at Lee’s on Wednesday nights started a tradition that continues, at least to tonight.
These evenings, throughout those relaxed years of opposition from 1993 to 1996 and in the early, busy days of government, were enjoyable, friendly and non-factional—or perhaps I should say ‘broad church’. They were gatherings that had only one rule, and that was that one should not attempt to understand, interfere with or even talk about the internal Liberal Party matters of any state other than one’s own.
These dinners were remarkable for their value for money. When Chris started, you could overeat on entrees, main courses and desserts for $7 a person—and that included quite a substantial tip. They were usually followed by visits to Le Grange, which has been mentioned. It closed after a murder there! The Grange is really where it all happened. We also went to the Kingo occasionally. I remember Senator Ellison and our then leader, Senator Hill—both big, burly men—confronting a doorman at the Kingo one night at about 3 o’clock in the morning, when he was suggesting to us that we should not be entering at that time. We went to those places. We occasionally went to the Hyatt, a favourite haunt of Senator Ellison and Ian Campbell. Sometimes we ended up at my flat at Arthur Circle with, at times, quite difficult results. There was no mention at any of these gatherings of the few altercations which may have happened during those late-night—or, indeed, early morning, as they were—continuations of those important political discussions we used to have.
Having met with Rod Kemp on this last weekend, I want, at this stage, to express to Chris and Caroline the very best wishes of Rod and Danielle Kemp in their retirement from this place, with an assurance from Kempie that, while it was fun being here, there is certainly a life after parliament. Rod would have been at Lee’s tonight but for a very pressing family commitment.
I feel sure that I can, without seeking their concurrence, also associate others with the remarks that have been made. Many of the Lee’s originals would want me to convey their best wishes to Chris. These people would, I am sure, want me to thank Chris for his friendship, his good humour, his help and his sensitivity to Lee’s secrets. I know that people like Robert Hill, Richard Alston, Ian Campbell, Noel Chrichton-Browne, Grant Chapman, Winston Crane, John Herron, David McGibbon, Senator Parer, Kay Patterson occasionally, when she could put up with the food, Sue Knowles and Grant Tambling would all want to be associated with these good wishes through their early association with you at Lee’s.
I think all of us in the Senate—and, indeed, in the parliament—will be poorer for Chris’s retirement from this place. I have certainly not always agreed with every view put by Chris, but I have always respected his beliefs and arguments and his genuine contribution to Australia and its governments in his role as a senator. I also greatly respect his role as a distinguished minister, for which Australia is indebted to him. Chris leaves the Senate with the very best wishes of all of us. My wife, Lesley, and I give our very best wishes to him and Caroline and their family. Good luck for the future.
There is a book written by an American politician called Character Makes a Difference. When I was reading this book, I was thinking of politicians that it would apply to. Very few so ably fit into the Character Makes a Difference mould as Senator Chris Ellison. I say that not because you are a character, Chris, although there are many who would testify that you are—I never stayed out late with him because we are both family men now, aren’t we, Chris?—but you are a man of extraordinarily good character. I think that is something that has been recognised and admired by all of your colleagues. You have remained very true to your values, your beliefs and your convictions throughout your parliamentary career. In the 2½ years that I have been here with you, I have admired that very much.
You are a man of great integrity. For the 15 or 16 years you have been here, Chris, I would like to say to Caroline: ‘Thank you for sharing him with us. You have shared his service and his distinguished contribution to the country. Your loss has been our gain because we have been able to benefit from it.’ You have been a wonderful inspiration. I say to Chris’s children, Siena, Nicholas and Sebastian: you will be pleased that your father is going to be at home. You should always be assured that your father is a very good man, and I hope that he will be an inspiration to you like he has been to so many of us. I hope that he will mentor you like he has mentored so many of us—as a father figure—in a slightly different capacity but with no less success.
I say also to Siena, Nicholas and Sebastian: as you grow up, you will realise that fathers and politicians are not always right. But your father, I am happy to say, started right; he stayed right; and I hope he continues to be right for many years to come. Be assured that your father is a man of integrity, even when you disagree with him, as you will on occasion. It has been a great privilege to have served with you in this place, Chris. I hope that our friendship does not cease here. I hope from the heart that we will have an ongoing dialogue. You have made a great contribution to the Senate and to your country. Your family deserves your attention. I just want to say thank you for all you have done.
My friendship with ‘Choofer’ Ellison began in 1993. I cannot call him Chris because I have never referred to him as Chris and I will not start tonight. It was Choofer Ellison back in 1993 and we have remained friends since then. I might just say as an aside that I hope we have made a booking for Lee’s tonight because, after an hour of free publicity, I think they will be flocking down there. They will only go once but they might interfere with our dinner tonight.
I had the pleasure to be part of the parliamentary secretaries shopping group with Chris Ellison in our first term in government. In those days, there was very little recognition given to parliamentary secretaries. Indeed, we used to joke that our staff would ring up industry groups and say that the parliamentary secretary wanted to meet with someone, and they would say, ‘Is your boss too busy to meet with them?’ But we have seen some movement on from then, and parliamentary secretaries are now getting appropriate recognition both in government and in opposition. Choofer was very actively involved in that.
I hope, Choofer, when they are talking about the bastions of the right—and there was reference to Rod Kemp, who very much fits that description—that you do not succumb to the same temptations that he clearly has; the last time Ian Macdonald and I saw him—last Saturday night—he was wearing a skirt. It was at the Melbourne Scots annual dinner, I have to say, so I will spring to his defence.
If you look back at those who have held ministerial responsibilities, there are very few who can boast six ministries and one parliamentary secretary’s job—and all of them done with great distinction and great aplomb. Choofer, it has been a great pleasure for me, in those early days, of course, in an entirely different role in the other place, and since I have been here to see a continuation of the work that I have admired for a long, long time.
I would just say to Caroline and the kids that, if after three months with him you are sick of him, regrettably, you cannot send him back—so that decision has been made. You deserve this time with Caroline and the kids, Choof. I know it will be time well spent. I thank you for your contribution over many, many years.
I stand to pay tribute to Senator Chris Ellison and, in the few brief moments that I have, to say congratulations and well done on your 15½ years, since July 1993. The words that come to mind when I think of Chris Ellison are as follows: passion, diligence, loyalty and honesty. Those words seem to permeate his presence and everything that he does in his workmanlike manner. He is professional and he is a decent man—and that has been referred to by a whole range of senators tonight in this valedictory debate.
When I joined the Senate in 2002, we were soon to engage in the stem cell debate, and that is when I first got to know Chris. Since then, on a whole range of issues relating to the protection of life, we have been as one. It has been a great pleasure and a great honour working with him and being likeminded on a whole range of social and moral issues—starting with the stem cell debate and then the cloning debate, RU486 and a whole range of other issues. Chris is a man of conservative values and strong Christian values, and for that I deeply respect and admire him. He is obviously a very strong Western Australian and a strong advocate for the federalist system. We agree on most things and disagree on a few—including the republic.
What an outstanding and distinguished career Chris has had. He has worn half a dozen ministerial caps during his 15½ years, as well as being Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate—a very tricky, complex and difficult role. I pay tribute to Chris and say congratulations and well done. I thank him for his friendship. He will be deeply missed in this parliament. Chris, you are now moving on to a new chapter with Caroline and the three children. I know you will relish that greatly. We have talked in the last few days and you have indicated your special interest in spending more time with the family and being involved in the private sector, in the community and volunteer sector and, of course, with your beloved Liberal Party. All I can say to those who have an opportunity to associate themselves with or be involved with Chris in the weeks, months and years ahead is: ‘Good on you; you are very, very fortunate indeed.’
We will celebrate tonight not only in the Senate chamber but also at Lee’s Inn. We pay tribute to Chris and thank him for his remarkable contribution to the Senate. In particular, we wish Caroline all the best in having her husband back again to spend more time with him. We also say congratulations and God bless.
I rise to acknowledge the great contribution that Chris Ellison has made to the Senate over the years he has been here—since 1993. Chris, as others have said, had a long and distinguished career in the ministry under the Howard government. In fact, he is the third-longest-serving federal minister from Western Australia—after Sir Shane Paltridge, who was the Liberal Party leader in the Senate in the Menzies government, and Sir Gordon Freeth, who was the Liberal member for Forrest and a former Australian foreign minister. Chris has been a true son of the WA Liberal Party, embodying its values and a commitment to federalism.
As Senator Ronaldson said, there are of course two Chris Ellisons: there is ‘Choofer’ and there is the very eminent and respectable Senator Ellison. As Choofer, he was very much involved in the politics of the northern metropolitan divisions in Perth and worked in association with a very famous upper house member for that area, Bob Pike—who, I am sure, was something of a mentor to Chris. Bob used to go around signing up entire bowling clubs, tennis clubs and football teams to ensure that there were a few friendly faces at his preselections, but he was also a person who had a very strong commitment to the Liberal Party’s philosophy. He, like Chris, was a strong Catholic and lived the values of his church in his life and in his commitment to his family.
Over the years, Chris has been a great supporter of the Liberal Party organisation. He was a very welcome and frequent attendee at north divisional conferences, particularly in Broome, for some reason, where he made some significant contributions, if not memorable contributions—and, may I say, not always on the conference floor! We always enjoyed your company, Chris, and we were always pleased that you made the effort to come up to the north-west and come to our conferences.
As others have said, Chris has the honour of having held six different ministries in government. But his greatest contribution, undoubtedly, was during his period as Minister for Customs and Justice. I know that that was a period that Chris enjoyed very much indeed. Without going into too much detail, I note that he really did make a difference in that portfolio.
Lee’s, of course, has been mentioned several times. I must say that, in my time in the Senate, Chris has been the greatest supporter of the Lee’s club and its grand traditions. I am sure that tonight there will be many tales told of events in the past which have occurred at Lee’s.
Chris has always seemed to me to be characterised by commitment and great energy. He is a very hard worker. All of this, importantly, has been combined with a pleasant and friendly manner and a joking sense of humour, which has made Chris a very pleasant person to know and to work with. Chris, I would like to wish you and Caroline and your family all the best for the future in whatever you take up in your post-parliamentary career. Whatever you do, I know you will be a great success at it.
Chris Ellison is a really good bloke. As a senator for Western Australia, he has served our home state, our country and the Liberal cause with distinction. He is loyal, committed, hardworking, conservative, at times cautious and very considered, but always very determined, and he is very, very good company. Chris Ellison is somebody who cares. He cares about what happens, about his constituents, about his state and about making a difference on the issues that matter. He cares about his staff and, more than anything else, he cares about his family—his beautiful wife, Caroline, and their beautiful children, Nicholas, Siena and Sebastian. I can only begin to imagine how excited they must be to have him back. I certainly know that they will not miss the Sunday afternoons, week after week, when Chris had to leave the family home and embark on the long journey from Perth to Canberra. From a selfish, personal point of view, I will be sad to see Chris leave the Senate, but of course I look forward to the ongoing opportunity of working with Chris within the context of the Western Australian Liberal Party in whatever form that might take in the future. From a family point of view, I very much know and understand the sacrifices that the Ellison family have made over the past 15½ years.
Chris Ellison has had a significant influence on my life. We first met about 12 years ago. I had recently migrated to Australia and was trying to find my feet. My English was even worse then than it is today! Chris gave me a chance to prove myself. In the past 12 years, Chris started off as my boss, became my mentor, and I feel very privileged to be able to say that we have become very close friends. Chris was not on his own in mentoring me either. I still remember the team effort when it all first started. I was very young, very keen—perhaps a bit too keen and too ambitious. Caroline and the other women in Chris’s office at the time always found a very Australian way to put me back into my box. I remember a particular incident in Chris’s office—on my first trip to Canberra, actually—when Caroline said, ‘Look, Mathias, just don’t get your knickers in a twist.’ It took me a while to understand, but ever since it has provided significant guidance when, at times, I might be known to get my knickers too much into a twist, for want of a better phrase.
Over the years, I have seen firsthand how in everything Chris does he is guided by a clear and consistent framework of personal values and principles. The first job I worked on with Chris was in relation to Kevin Andrews’ private member’s bill, the Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996, when Chris was Chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee. It was a big job at the time. I cannot remember the number of submissions, but it was a very big job and, dare I say it, had a good outcome. Since that period, Chris and I have talked politics at all hours of the day and night—and, when I say ‘all hours of the day and night’, I mean all hours of the day and night! Much of it is classified information, and I will claim the 30-year rule—although, listening to Senator Abetz, it sounds to me as though over the next couple of years there will be some rolling revelations, as his history with Chris started more than 30 years ago.
Chris was a federal minister for more than 10 years, and, while there are too many achievements to list here today, I thought I would just touch on a few. As Special Minister of State, Chris was responsible for the conduct of the referendum on whether Australia should become a republic. Of course, another good outcome was achieved on that occasion.
Chris was the Minister for Justice and Customs at the time of both September 11 and the Bali bombings—terrible world events that changed Australia forever. I will never forget the conversations we had on the phone as we watched in disbelief as the events in New York unfolded in front of us on television, or the absolute devastation we felt when we got the terrible news about the Bali bombings. As Minister for Justice and Customs, Chris was on the front line in helping manage Australia’s response to those terrible events. It was an incredible privilege to be able to play a small part in assisting him at the time in fulfilling that very important responsibility for Australia. He introduced the air security officers into Australia. He oversaw the establishment of the Australian Crime Commission. He was a highly respected minister for customs who took a strong stand on border protection, an issue he spoke passionately about as recently as yesterday. He pursued the establishment of a national child sex offender register through CrimTrac, firearms reforms and many, many other important public policy reforms and initiatives.
All throughout those 10 years as a very busy federal minister, he was also—and this might be less known in the Senate—the Prime Minister’s representative in the Western Australian Liberal Party organisation. That is, he spent 10 years representing the Prime Minister at every state council, state executive, state management executive and federal campaign committee meeting. Those of us who understand about organisational politics, be it within the Liberal Party, the Labor Party or any other party, know what a significant commitment to the Liberal Party organisation that has been over the period of time that Chris has been a minister.
By the time Chris arrived in the Senate, he already had a long and distinguished track record of commitments to the Western Australia Liberal Party organisation, starting as an active member of the UWA Liberal Club as far back as 1975 when fighting for voluntary student unionism. Over the years, he has been the president of the Nedlands branch and the Perth division, and chair of our Constitutional and Drafting Committee. He spent 10 years on the state executive and SME as the Prime Minister’s representative. Who knows what other opportunities there may be in the future. I believe that a strong commitment to party organisations is a very good preparation for the job we do as members of parliament, and I certainly admire Chris’s commitment to that. Even when his ministerial job kept him very busy, he still had an ongoing and dedicated commitment to the Liberal Party organisation.
Working for Chris was like being part of a family operation. Many of us who were there along the way continue to be close friends and to stay in touch. A number of us have made it into parliament, thanks in no small part to the coaching, mentoring and guidance we received from Chris Ellison along the way. Two of the people in the Ellison team are now ministers in the Barnett Liberal-National government in Western Australia. That has been very good news, and it is something that I know Chris is exceptionally proud of. However, sadly one member of the family is missing today. Our very good friend Marilyn Benkovic, a well loved member of the Ellison team, the longest-serving, most dedicated and committed member of the Ellison team, very sadly passed away a few months ago after a long battle with cancer. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Marilyn and her family.
I think senators will be getting a clear understanding that for me this is quite a personal moment. I am very, very grateful to Chris Ellison for the role that he has played in my life and I look forward to continuing the friendship. I will miss you greatly here in the Senate; I will miss you on the plane. I am very happy and excited for your family. I know that you will now enter into the next phase of your life and that there will be many exciting opportunities. I wish you all the very best in your future endeavours. I know that I speak for all who have ever worked with you in thanking you for the opportunity to do so. We have enjoyed being part of your vision to make a difference. I know that I speak for all members of the WA Liberal Party State Council—in fact, for all Western Australian Liberals—when I say that you have done us proud. Thank you for the job that you have done for us.
It is with enormous admiration, coupled with much sadness, that I rise to pay tribute to Senator the Hon. Chris Ellison for the significant contribution he has made to the Parliament of Australia, to the parliamentary Liberal Party and, of course, to the Western Australia Liberal Party during more than 15 years in the Australian Senate. I know from my political association with Chris over many years—in fact, going back to when I was a teenager, when you, Chris were much younger—that you were, as Senator Eggleston stated, known as ‘Choofer’. Back then, Chris, it was not Lee’s but Club Bayview, and you were the president of our Perth division. You have demonstrated professionalism, competence and an extraordinary understanding of parliamentary practice and procedure in your role as a senior minister and Manager of Government Business in the Senate and, of course, in your role as a senator for Western Australia in this chamber.
Chris, all Australians—in particular, all Western Australians—have been beneficiaries of your many political achievements during your time in this place. Throughout your time in the Senate, you have worked diligently and with great distinction. Your retirement is going to be an absolute blessing to Caroline, Siena, Sebastian and Nicholas and, in that respect, I am thrilled for all of you. Nonetheless, it will be, as senators tonight have recognised, a real loss to us in this place. I take solace in the fact that, whilst your service in this place may be coming to an end, your contribution to public life, to the conservative side of politics and indeed to the Western Australia division of the Liberal Party will continue. I think Senator Cormann will agree with me when I say: Chris, you can run but you can’t hide! We will hunt you down and bring you back if required!
For the record, Senator Ellison has had a long and distinguished career in the Australian parliament. He was elected to the Senate in 1993 and re-elected in 1998 and in 2004. He served for over 10 years as a minister in the Howard government, including as Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs, Minister Assisting the Attorney-General, Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training, Minister for Human Services and Special Minister of State. As Minister for Justice and Customs, Chris, you introduced a number of important reforms in justice and border protection, and strengthened Australia’s continuing struggle against organised crime and terrorism. These are truly achievements of which you can be proud.
For all of us who enter political life, being a member of parliament is not just a job; it is our life—particularly when you come from Western Australia and have such great distances to travel in order to discharge your parliamentary responsibilities for your state. As senators, we could not do that without the love and support of our families. In that respect, Caroline, Sebastian, Nicholas and Siena, I pay tribute to you. Chris, it has been an absolute privilege to serve as a senator for Western Australia with you. I congratulate you on your service to the parliament and to the people of Australia and I look forward to continuing to work with you in the future. I really and truly wish you all the very best in your future endeavours.
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader in the Senate) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
It is with sadness this evening that we formally farewell a wonderful colleague and a true gentleman. Since coming to the Senate in May 2005, I have truly enjoyed working with you, Chris, and sharing many of the highs and lows that make up our daily lives in this place. When I first heard you referred to as ‘Choof’, I thought, ‘How appropriate.’ In Italian, ‘ciuffo’ means a tuft of hair. So every time I see your grey hair, I think, ‘It’s so appropriate that you’re called Choof.’ I have not worked out what Choof actually means in English, but perhaps all might be revealed tonight.
In your maiden speech, you set out your values and beliefs, and in that speech you enunciated your conservative philosophy and your hopes and aspirations for your time in the Senate. You can be truly proud that you have fulfilled your ambitions. In the time that I have known you, I have shared your conservative approach and I have been very proud that we have supported many similar causes. I thank you for the courtesy, the understanding and the guidance that you have given me during my time in this place. Your measured approach and your understanding and willingness to engage your colleagues have been the hallmark of the many roles that you have undertaken.
In particular, I know that you have left a considerable mark on those areas that you took such a passionate interest in. These have been, especially, justice, customs, border security and immigration issues. Rest assured that there will be amongst our ranks those who will continue your legacy. I hope that you will also continue your involvement in the Liberal Party in Western Australia. Under your tutelage, Western Australia has a good history of sending solid citizens to Canberra. I hope that branch development in Western Australia continues to be one of your pastimes. In conclusion, Chris, I wish you, Caroline and all your family all the very, very best for the future.
The incorporated speech read as follows—
Senator Chris Ellison has made a very significant contribution to Australian politics in his 15 year parliamentary career as a Senator for Western Australia.
Senator Ellison’s parliamentary career commenced in 1993 when he replaced the retiring, former Attorney General, Senator Peter Durack. Senator Ellison’s talents were quickly recognised when he was promoted in February 1997 by Prime Minister Howard to the position of Parliamentary Secretary to both the Attorney General and Minister for Health. Success in this portfolio was further recognised and he was promoted just four months later to his first ministerial post as Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs and later that year to the position as Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training.
However, it was as the Minister for Justice and Customs that he made his greatest contribution in developing joint national law enforcement initiatives through the combine efforts of the Australian Federal Police and Australian Customs Service. Senator Ellison’s efforts have resulted in Australia being a safe and secure place to live thanks to his initiative, foresight and tenacious attention to the administrative detail that was necessary in implementing public safety reforms following the events of September 2001.
As the Senator who was fortunate enough to succeed Senator Ellison as the Minister for Justice and Customs I can faithfully report that in all of my deliberations and discussions with the officials and heads of the departments that he administered he was genuinely held in the highest of regard.
To succeed such a successful Minister was both an honour and a privilege. His efforts in establishing proper and correct processes made my task as a new Minister just that much easier. For this I will always be grateful.
In March 2007 Senator Ellison was deservingly promoted to Cabinet as Minister for Human Service. In Opposition he served in the Shadow Cabinet as the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate.
Senator Chris Ellison has worked tirelessly on a myriad of projects as both a representative of the people of Western Australia and as a Minister who consistently stood up for his home state.
It is with considerable conviction that I say his considerable talents will be greatly missed by his colleagues.
It is often lost by many of my colleagues in the Senate on the rigours of constant travel to and from Canberra from Perth interspersed with travel around my vast home state which can range from several hundred to thousands of kilometres. This often means an eight thousand kilometre round trip lasting for eight or nine hours on at least forty five weeks of any one year.
I wish Senator Ellison all the best with whatever he turns his hand to, and I hope he enjoys the additional time he will now have to spend with his wife Caroline, and his children.
The incorporated speech read as follows—
In this big building, teeming with seemingly thousands of people it is still possible to be lonely. When the flush of initial excitement and wonderment fades, some newly arrived Senators can often feel isolated and cloistered.
But I was lucky. When I arrived Senate colleagues were generous with their time and convivial to a fault. And no one more than Senator Chris Ellison. Though he was busy with ministerial duties he took the time to make me welcome, always provided friendly advice (which I sometimes stupidly failed to heed) and has proven to be a constant source of support.
Chris explained to me that he as a Western Australian and me as a Queenslander share a special bond. While he always questioned wise men from the east, and I sophisticates from the south, we both shared a common scepticism of the worldly triangle of Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. Chris’ scepticism has stayed with me.
Chris was always consistent. He was conservative but with a conscience. He would always listen, he was always polite, he was always considered. It is these personal qualities that have made Chris Ellison one of the most respected figures in the Senate. While many of us (me included) have sadly succumbed to loud invective and sometimes personal abuse, Chris never ever fell for that. He always remained courteous even under great pressure. As Minister for Justice, despite abuse and provocation from the then Opposition, Chris maintained a dignity, politeness and a sense of purpose one could only admire. Above all else, Chris Ellison will be remembered for these personal qualities.
Of course I can’t forget what a great dinner companion Chris was. We shared too many wicked nights at Lee’s Chinese Restaurant. We perhaps ate too many dim sims and drank too much red wine. But I could not think of better company in which to relax.
I only hold one grudge against Chris. And that is that early in my parliamentary career while we were having a drink somewhere in Manuka the music came on and he forced me to dance (and I have to admit I had had a couple of drinks), with the bopping Member for Mackellar, Ms Bronwyn Bishop MP. Chris laughed with mirth, Bronwyn jived and I failed to swing.
Anyway, Chris, I forgive you for that now.
I wish Chris and his lovely wife Caroline all the very best for their future and I know that Chris will build a full life beyond the confines of the Senate. I respect him for his contribution to Australian public life and thank him for his sincerity, warmth, politeness and generosity. I know I have learnt from his example.
The incorporated speech read as follows—
As a relatively new Senator, I would like to place on record my strongest appreciation for the service to his state and his country that have been delivered by Senator Chris Ellison in his all too brief 15 & 1/2 years in this place.
My 15 months in the Senate alongside him have not allowed me to get to know him as well as I would have liked. However, 15 months has been more than enough for me to recognise his immense compassion for the people he represents and his great capacity to represent them and his strong and principled approach to difficult and sometimes controversial issues affecting Australians.
I was privileged to spend a short period as a government Senator in the best government this nation has ever seen, the last Coalition Government, and this provided me with an opportunity to observe Senator Ellison in his role as a Minister in that Government.
What I found interesting is that answers to questions without notice by all Ministers other than Senator Ellison, always responded in the traditional raucous behaviour and interjections so often observed during ‘Question Time’.
But when a question was being answered by Senator Ellison, the chamber always fell silent as he clearly, calmly and relevantly answered whatever was thrown at him. The obvious respect that even the most uncouth of the then Opposition showed him, was an absolute testament to his character and his capacity and approach to representing Australians in this place.
There have only been some 533 or so Senators who have ever sat in this place. I am sure that Senator Ellison’s contribution as a Senator for Western Australia, a Government Minister, as Shadow Minister and manager of both Opposition and Government business in the Senate, will prove him to be one of the most respected and capable of all those 533.
He is a true gentleman and a man of character and conviction. I wish him and Caroline the best in his retirement and am sure that he will enjoy the additional freedom he will have to spend time with his young family.
Before I call the man of the hour, I would also like to express my best wishes to you and your family for the future, Senator Ellison. For those of us that have families, particularly young families, our diaries are organised around our political duties and we often miss important family events and social occasions. I hope that, in whatever you choose to do outside this place, your life can now be set by your family diary. I am sure that your family, who are here today, are embracing with open arms your decision to resign from the Senate.
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. Listening tonight to the comments of other senators, I do not think this valedictory is about me at all; it is about someone else, some mythical person, definitely not me. But I thank you for your very kind comments. Looking at the time that has been taken, as a former manager of business—and Senator Ludwig will know what I am talking about—I think we have averaged about six minutes per speech, which was a little bit more than I had expected, but we had three incorporations which brought it down somewhat, so that is good. But I do not want to take too much of the Senate’s time, which is very valuable. We have some very important work to do, so I will not delay it.
It was former Senator Patterson who said that your maiden speech and your valedictory speech are like bookends of your time in this place. At a time such as this, you reflect on the time in between those bookends and look back at the support and cooperation that you have received from people along the way. I have had a fortunate political life in my time here, and this has been in no small measure due to the people who have helped me. After more than 15 years in the Senate, my decision to leave has been made on the basis that I want to spend more time with my young family—and I thank you all for the very kind comments you have made in relation to Caroline, my wife, and my three children.
I have been proud to represent the state of Western Australia. It has been a great honour, and I thank the people of Western Australia for placing their trust in me. I hope I have fulfilled that trust and done what they expected of me. I also want to thank the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party placed great trust in me and selected me to be its representative. I want to thank all those volunteers who have worked tirelessly in the Liberal Party over the years for their support. I hope too that I have met that trust they placed in me.
I have enjoyed myself immensely whilst in the Senate. Some previous speakers have touched on some of the more social moments, and I will deal with those in a moment, but I would like to just mention the staff who help us so much as senators. I thank the chamber staff and the staff of the Senate, who share the long sitting hours that we have seen over the years; the clerks, for the invaluable advice that they have given me, especially as Manager of Government Business and Manager of Opposition Business; the security staff, who keep this place so safe and secure; and Comcar, who provide us with such a professional service, which makes our job just a little easier.
I want to acknowledge in particular the service of Anne Lynch, our former Deputy Clerk of the Senate. I want to let Anne know that we are all thinking of her as she faces the challenges ahead of her. She was a great source of assistance and inspiration to me in my early years here and I am thinking of her during this time.
Of course, I am not the only one leaving the Senate this week. There is someone else, who has had much longer service than I have, and I refer to the Black Rod, Andrea Griffiths, who leaves after in excess of 26 years of distinguished service. We wish Andrea well in her future endeavours and thank her for her outstanding service to the parliament.
To my friends I say thank you. There is an old saying, and it was put to me when I first came here: no greater love had he than he laid down his friends for his political life. I hope I have not done that. To my friends who have stood by me for all those years and supported me: if I have not kept in touch as much as I should have I apologise. I value their friendship. It has always been good to go back to Perth and get a dose of reality. One of my old friends gives me ‘the hot news flash’. The ‘hot news flash’, when we were in government, was that we were stuffing it up. Starting at point 1, he said: ‘There’s too much taxation. You’re stuffing it up. You’re not doing a good enough job.’ It is friends like that that you need in this life because they keep you on terra firma, and I thank them for that.
To my colleagues I say thank you for your support and friendship. Over the years I have been very lucky to have worked with some outstanding people: Robert Hill, Richard Alston and in particular former West Australian colleagues and friends in Ian Campbell and Sue Knowles. It has been a great privilege to serve with the coalition leadership in Nick Minchin, who is an outstanding leader of the coalition in the Senate. Thank you very much, Nick. To Eric Abetz, who goes back a long way with me: Eric, it has been good to have been in the trenches with you because you have always been a good man in a tight spot. To our whip, Stephen Parry: I am not so sure that policing would suit me. I used to always be on the other side of the bar table, if you could put it that way, putting the prosecution to its proof. But nonetheless I came to respect the police services immensely while being their minister. Stephen, it has been great to have worked with you as whip. I think you have carried on that tradition fantastically in the footsteps of Jeannie Ferris, who we still miss and who did such a great job as whip. As Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate Helen Coonan is doing a great job, in addition to so many other roles, and I know how demanding that must be.
It is obligatory to turn to the comments that have been made by one’s colleagues. The vast majority of those comments have been much too generous. I start with the opposition’s. I agree with Senator Evans in that I have been a very lucky person. Timing is a lot in politics and I have enjoyed the fruits of that timing. I have been a minister for 10½ years, and that is roughly 10 per cent of the political life of this country. As I said, I have had a very politically fortunate life. I think that was more by luck than by design. Senator Evans mentioned our days at university. I remember the commitment and passion that he had for Labor politics, and I respect that.
There is an issue which I still champion: voluntary student unionism. We are to face this issue yet again on the question of voluntary association. It is amazing that it was 1977 when we first raised it at the University of Western Australia Liberal Club. Here we are in 2008 and we are still carrying on the fight, and I am very pleased to be in it. I look around and see many fellow warriors who have been championing that fight over the years. It was Senator Evans who reminded me of those student politics days. It was great fun indeed. Little did I think, though, that that issue would carry on for so long.
To Senator Ludwig: Joe, and this is said in a personal sense, the government is lucky to have you as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate. You are a straight shooter and a competent and decent person to deal with, and you certainly value process. That is, I think, very important in the Senate. It is an area of assurance, when you are dealing with the management of business, that you can take people at their word, and I always could take Joe Ludwig at his word—and I think you cannot say much more about a person than that. Joe, I have enjoyed that relationship, and I certainly wish you well in that role—although for not too long a time in that role, as you would appreciate.
Some mentioned my role in the Western Australian Liberal Party. The Liberal Party has been a passion for me. It is really what enables you to make a difference and to come to this place. As for those people who do not believe in the party system, I say this to them: if there were no party system in this country, if you left the vote to be free and if you left it so there were an indiscriminate vote on each occasion, you would have chaos. It is the party system which brings discipline to the parliament and gives certainty to the people of Australia. Whether it be Labor in power or the coalition in power, Australia at least has that certainty. The Senate is finely balanced, and I do acknowledge the crossbenchers—and I see Senator Fielding here tonight. They have an important part to play. I will touch on that in a moment because Senator Minchin raised a very good point on that aspect of the fine balance in the Senate. But, in relation to the Liberal Party, whenever we went out to sign people up it was to increase our membership, to make it all more broadly based and to have that community base. For any of those who would impute other motives—and I see Don Randall, the member for Canning, grinning broadly—he is one who would aspire to and subscribe to that notion of broad community involvement. Such is the stuff of political parties.
Other comments were made about the times that we have shared socially. Macca, Rono and Fergie—Sprat, as we used to call him—and a few others mentioned those. I think it is important that in this place you take the job seriously but not yourself. That was said to me once by a wise old man, and I think he was dead right. It can be fun or it can be very lonely and disconsolate. This is a job where you should not take yourself seriously. You need that enthusiasm and you need that passion but at the same time, like all things in life, you should have some fun. That adds a dimension to it which I think adds to your contribution to this place. That passion enabled us to have those late nights, as Macca described, and those political arguments that went on were fuelled by a political conviction—and nothing else, I might add. I say that, of course, tongue in cheek.
There are people who have helped us along the way. I have been very lucky to have had some extremely good staff. Mathias Cormann mentioned Marilyn Benkovic, who was my PA for 15 years. Sadly, we lost Marilyn to breast cancer just a few months ago. We miss her greatly. I could not have asked for more loyalty or service from anyone, and I surely did not deserve it. Lisa Yarwood has been a member of my staff for 12 years, and I have often questioned her sanity in lasting so long. But Lisa has been outstanding and I thank Lisa for the great work she has done. I thank all those staff members that I have had over the years.
Mathias mentioned those who have gone on to political life. It is a very high calling to serve your country, your state or your territory as an elected member of parliament. It is a source of great pride that I have six former staff members who have gone into political life—all on the Liberal side of course. There are two ministers in the state government of Western Australia, one upper house member, a senator, a member of the House of Representatives and also a member of the Brisbane City Council. I take immense pride in that, and they are all doing very well. I wish them every success in their political endeavours and I will follow their careers closely and with great affection.
Mr President, can I thank you for your contribution in your role, and I acknowledge the work you and your predecessor, Senator Ferguson, have done in guiding the Senate. It is fair to say that in both of you the Senate has a solid team at the helm.
Of course, you cannot do this job without the love and support of your family. Here today in the gallery are my wife, Caroline, and our three young children, Nicholas, Siena and Sebastian. I thank you for your love and support and I could not have done this job without you.
There are some unusual aspects to political life and politics. In a more security-conscious role I had some years ago, we had Australian Federal Police patrols go past our house. My son Nicholas told his year 1 teacher that his dad received frequent visits from the police. Needless to say, Caroline and I moved very quickly to stop that story before it grew legs. But you get that in political life with young children. Of course, there your family life and the life you have here are parallel. During the time I have been here, I have seen both my parents pass away, and my wife and I have had three children.
Coming from Western Australia, I will not miss the travel—and I will not pretend to. It was a part of the job that I was not very keen on. Looking around the chamber, I see that my Western Australian colleagues from both the House of Representatives and the Senate are here. I say to them that the travel from Western Australia is a great demand that not many people know about.
When I made the announcement that I was going to leave politics, I said that a lot of people overlook the contribution made by members of parliament. I want to say that again. Across the board, I have seen fantastic work done by members of parliament and senators of all political persuasions. I want to put that on the record because I think that those listening in the broader community should realise the commitment that I have seen from members of parliament and senators. Of course, they spend many hours away from loved ones, and I think that needs to be remembered.
In relation to the Senate, I have said it is important that the Senate have a role of scrutiny in relation to the government of the day. Former Labor Senator Barney Cooney reminded me the other night of Edmund Burke’s comment, ‘Bad laws lead to tyranny.’ I hope that, as minister for justice, when I formulated the guidelines for the framing of criminal and civil Commonwealth penalties and offences, I contributed in some small way to the improvement of the laws passed in this place.
The Senate does offer the Australian people important scrutiny. To this end, the committee system, I think, is essential. I have enjoyed my time working on committees such as the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. I certainly valued the time when I chaired the inquiry into the treaty-making power that led to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and in fact changed the whole process of treaty making in this country and made it more transparent.
As a minister, I have received the support and advice of a Public Service who are too often overlooked and too often not noticed for the great work that they do in the service of their country. Whether it be Centrelink during times of emergency, Medicare providing valuable services to the people of Australia or the AFP and Customs keeping Australia safe and secure, I have seen outstanding work. It is great to see that work ongoing, and Tom Anderson from the Customs Service is here today in the chamber as a testament to that.
It has been mentioned that I oversaw the referendum on the republic, which was an interesting experience. As minister for schools, I saw us embark on literacy and numeracy testing and I saw the Simpson Prize, which I am very fond of. It is a national essay competition amongst high school students across Australia which keeps alive the spirit of ANZAC. Since 1998 we have seen schoolchildren go to Gallipoli on Anzac Day to represent their country and their state, and I have been very pleased to see that the government is continuing that.
As Australia’s longest serving minister for justice, it has been a great privilege to work with the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Customs Service. Mick Keelty has done an outstanding job as the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, and together we oversaw what many regard as the greatest period of change in the AFP’s history. It was not just the emergence of counterterrorism and 9-11; we saw a variety of other threats and challenges such as cybercrime, predators on the internet—the AFP is now a world leader in that regard—and the enhancement of AFP’s international network overseas.
There was also our engagement in South-East Asia and Operation Alliance, which saw Indonesia and Australia break international policing conventions by forming a joint investigation into the Bali bombing. Indeed, it was incredible to have been part of that. The subsequent partnership between Australia and Indonesia, with the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation, has been an outstanding success in the fight against terrorism, and we have seen a lot of other countries join that.
There are also the AFP’s operations in East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomons. We remember as we approach Christmas the personnel who will not be home for Christmas and who are carrying on a great job not only in the interests of Australia but in the interests of the region. Throughout all this, the war on drugs is continuing. It is important that we remember the great work that Mick Keelty and the Australian Federal Police do in their service to Australia.
Of course I also saw the transition of the National Crime Authority to the Australian Crime Commission, and I think that was a step forward in the fight against crime. I think that Alistair Milroy has done a great job. He will be retiring shortly and I wish him well.
The Australian Customs Service is our foremost border control service and I think it is a world leader. We have seen precedent and measures taken in relation to protecting this island continent. It is essential that we continue to do that and it is essential that we resource both Navy and Customs. While Senator Ludwig is in the chamber, I might just remind him of the coastguard policy. There is no need for a coastguard—we have a Border Protection Command and I think they do a fantastic job for Australia—and I am sure that is a policy that the government will abandon in due course, and I will await that.
At this point I want to acknowledge Philip Ruddock, who is in the chamber, who did such a great job as minister for immigration in the Howard government.
We face challenging times. We see the changing nature of the Australian family and the threat to Australian family life. We must give absolute priority to the protection of the family unit being the basic building block of our society. If we ignore that, we ignore it at our peril. It is essential that we maintain that as a priority.
I mentioned that you needed conviction of belief to do this job. One thing we must remember is that we all come here to do an important job and we do it in the belief that what we are doing is right for Australia. That is a feature of our great democracy. But on the subject of those convictions and beliefs I remember St Augustine’s admonition:
Compromise on the incidentals but never on the essentials.
That is not a bad rule to adopt in life.
We also have trying times in relation to the current financial situation. That will require work across the chamber and together in the parliament to overcome. But we have seen all this before. At the time that I gave my maiden speech we had unemployment of around 11 per cent. We had just gone through a recession, which was supposedly the darkest financial time since the Great Depression. We also had SARS and the Asian downturn and the dot com bubble had burst. These things come and go and they come to try to test us. But we have a lot of ability in this country; we have been left with a strong economy by the former government, we have a strong will in the parliament and we have the expertise to get us through it. We as a parliament have to lead the Australian nation through it with confidence and inspire the community with the confidence to get through it. We have too many doomsayers out there saying that all will be lost, we will be financially ruined and there is no hope. If you maintain that, there will be no hope. I say that there is; it will be hard work and it will require all of us to do that.
I say to you all that it is very sad to be leaving, but I look forward to spending more time with my family. The coalition is in great form. I look around and I see immense talent in the Senate. And Malcolm Turnbull and other members of the House of Representatives have joined us here tonight—my Western Australian colleagues. I thank those Western Australian colleagues for their support. I know that the coalition is going to go on to great things. It has immense talent, and you should not for one minute doubt the talent that you have. We have great policies to take to the Australian people, and you will do that very successfully.
I wish you all well. As we approach Christmas I wish you and your families a great Christmas, a great New Year, a safe holiday and a happy time ahead. Keep up the good work. Maintain that conviction that you all have and that commitment to work for Australia. As Senator Boswell said when he quoted from my first speech, we do need to vouchsafe that blessing each morning so that we will carry out what is good for the interests and welfare of this country. I thank the Senate.
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